Thousands sign up for coronavirus travel vouchers lawsuit
Angry customers who have claimed they been shortchanged over their cancelled travel plans due to COVID-19 are lining up in their thousands to take on travel agents, airlines and tour companies in court.
Angry customers who claim they been shortchanged over cancelled travel plans due to COVID-19 are lining up in their thousands to take on travel agents, airlines and tour companies in court.
Law firm Slater and Gordon said they had received a huge response to their announcement of a potential class action looking at whether travel companies were breaching their legal obligations.
More than 2500 people had registered their interest in taking part in the class action over the past week, the firm said.
Melbourne couple Katrina and Alex Anderson are among those frustrated customers seeking to join the class action.
The pair spent $37,000 on several holidays booked with travel company Luxury Escapes before the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Anderson said the money included $14,000 for a package trip to Japan and the Gold Coast that never went ahead in March, and then a Europe river cruise and tour worth $23,000 that was to take place in June.
When she contacted Luxury Escapes to ask for a refund, Ms Anderson said she was told this was not an option.
"The whole thing has been a disaster. We booked our flights separately with Qantas and they refunded the full amount," Ms Anderson said.
Ms Anderson said she had booked two extra days at the same Tokyo hotel she and her partner were staying with as part of the Luxury Escapes package.
The same hotel offered her a full refund, whereas Luxury Escapes would not.
Instead, Luxury Escapes offered to reschedule the trip, Ms Anderson said.
"We were offered a date to move the Japan trip to in November. We felt pressured, we said we will take November, because we didn't want to lose all that money we had paid," Ms Anderson said.
"But then the more we are hearing about the travel ban is that it's not going to happen then either."
Ms Anderson said she had also been offered a chance to reschedule the couple's Europe trip by Luxury Escapes but when she visited the website there were no dates available for the river cruise.
"Luxury Escapes is holding $37,000 of our money. It's a huge amount, it's not like its $2000 or $1000. It's big money. I accept there might be some that we would lose, but to keep all your money and then give us no real options, it's not right."
Luxury Escapes has been contacted for comment.
In an email to Ms Anderson, Luxury Escapes said it was offering full credit on all tours which would be valid from 12 to 18 months.
Gordon and Slater Practice Group Leader Andrew Paull said the firm had spoken with holidaymakers who have been left thousands of dollars out of pocket and holding vouchers that they may never be able to use.
"We understand that everyone is doing it tough at present, including the major airlines and travel companies, but that doesn't give them an excuse to take advantage of their customers," Mr Paull said.
The class action will include airlines Qantas and Jetstar, who ought to be handing out refunds instead of vouchers, he said.
"We believe cash refunds should be returned to customers, who almost certainly need that money right now, rather than in bank accounts gathering interest for airline shareholders," Mr Paull said.
Slater and Gordon said the issues it had uncovered included relying on blanket 'no refund' clauses in its terms and conditions, despite having been previously warned by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) that these clauses will not always be binding.
The class action comes as major travel agent company Flight Centre was forced to back down and abolish the $300 per person cancellation fees it was charging for refunds.
Flight Centre's backflip came after thousands of its customers also threatened legal action and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued the travel agents with a sternly-worded warning.
The ACCC said it had received more than 6000 complaints from travel company customers about refund policies and cancellation fees.
"We are continuing to discuss issues in relation to refunds and cancellations with the travel sector, and encourage travel providers to treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances," ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
Whether a customer was entitled to a refund or a credit voucher would generally come down to the terms and conditions signed by a customer, however sometimes these were not always clear, Mr Sims said.
The ACCC said it expected customers to be given a refund or at least a credit voucher with a lengthy enough expiration date to use it.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org